In June 2017, Dr Craig Doughty completed a PhD thesis entitled ‘Constructing a history from fragments: jazz and voice in Boston, Massachusetts, circa 1919 – 1929’ (Keele University). This work applied an interdisciplinary methodological approach that incorporated musicology and subaltern studies. The focus was on the appropriation of jazz music produced by underrepresented blacks in Boston during the period into a form of protest dialogue. Dr Doughty's current research, entitled ‘Can the Subaltern Play’ seeks to broaden the scope of his PhD thesis by focusing on the period 1910 to 1949. In doing so, it will present the possibility for comparison with the social, cultural, and economic dynamics discussed in his original work. Additionally, this research provides a suitable opportunity to advance Dr Doughty’s proposed methodological approach to historical reconstruction over a longer period, and in doing so ascertain to what extent the social and cultural dynamics of black Boston changed from the turn of the century to its mid-point and the causes for these changes.

The Death Dance: the Pickwick Club Disaster in Boston, 1925

Investigations would later reveal that the Pickwick was structurally unsound, but in the immediate aftermath of the disaster city officials, the media, and residents speculated over the cause, with many concluding that jazz music and jazz dancing were responsible. Continue reading

1919: the Boston Molasses Flood and the Year of Violence and Disillusion

This year marks the one-hundredth anniversary of the Boston Molasses Flood, arguably one of the strangest disasters in American history. Twenty-one people died, 150 were injured, and homes and buildings were destroyed. In the midst of the after-math of World War I, Calvin Coolidge assumed the role of Governor of Massachusetts, and in doing so he inherited the responsibility of Boston, a city that was in the midst of social and economic crisis. The Molasses Flood only served to heighten feelings of unease, with some of Boston’s leading figures and its media looking to place blame, with anarchists and communists heading the list of potential suspects. Ultimately, the Molasses Flood was a preamble for a year of upheaval in Boston that would see widespread violence, acts of terrorism, and a historic police strike. This article looks briefly at the events of that fateful day on January 2, 1919 and its impact. Continue reading

‘Can the Subaltern Play?’ Jazz as Voice in Boston, Massachusetts circa 1910 – 1949

One of the most interesting developments in contemporary subaltern studies has been its growing engagement with culture, particularly music. In 1988, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, in the context of postcolonial research, asked, ‘Can the Subaltern Speak?’ which, through its focus on agency, inspired greater inclusiveness and self-critical research on the other, life on the margins, and unheard peoples. Since then, many scholars have engaged with the political consequences of Spivak’s question and used her essay as inspiration. Continue reading